(Editor's note: Pennsylvania dealer Peter Brandow provides the following tips — some sarcastic, some not — on how automakers' representatives and dealers might get along better.).
For dealers, senior management is our zone manager. Whomever he reports to may be important to his career path, but we get all our goodies from him and his staff. When his boss is in town it just reminds us how low on the food chain he really is. But, if the big Kahuna is in town, we'd love to meet him and do feel special when he reads the name off our badge as he shakes our hand. Perhaps he'll even remember us from the time we shook hands at last year's new car intro, or was it two years ago at the convention? Maybe there could be a local rep who feeds him information just before we approach so he can seem to know us more personally.
We hate meetings (unless we're at the head table). All of your PowerPoint presentations boil down to: Some folks are doing better than we, some worse, and that you would like us to treat the customer better, advertise more and stock more vehicles on our lot. Our response: If it were that easy, you wouldn't need us. Stop boring us with all the eye charts of what percentage this is of that. When you call a “town meeting” we just want to see new products, watch new ads and hear you say the sun will come up tomorrow. Everything else is an endurance test to how well our mothers taught us to sit still in church.
Stop telling us about how much you value our opinion. If you were truly interested in what we think, you might just ask your reps. They hang out in the store enough to know what's what, and if they don't, fire them and hire the kind that do.
If you're really sincere, stop by once in a while and ask us our opinion, and touch base later to report on what you've done about it. And while we're at it, when you start your meetings with how insensitive you've been in the past and how much better you promise to be in the future, try to memorize the part about how important you think we are. When it's read off a teleprompter it dilutes the sincerity.
When you visit, spend more time telling us about what's going on at our neighbor's store; we want to know who's selling more cars than we and how you think they're doing it (we know you can't tell us this stuff officially, but you do it anyway, don't you?). We'd also like the inside info on what product is about to have a super whammy incentive (we know you may be wrong, just don't lie to us too often).
Lastly dealers always want what good gossip about us is making the rounds. Stuff like who thinks we've sold our store and for how much and which of our managers is quitting to go with the competition. We also love to hear what everyone thinks we're doing right, wrong and otherwise — especially the comments made in your Monday morning secret staff meetings.
And about that meeting, when you want to sell us stuff, the greatest undue pressure you can exert is to tell us that we were the topic of conversation at this week's meeting back at the zone office; that everyone else is considered easier to get along with and that you've heard that a record is being kept in our permanent file to warn the next zone manager of just how difficult we've been. Deep down inside we know this is a bluff, but on the surface it bugs the hell out of us.
Know what we really sell cars for in this market and never tell us how much money we're making “per dealership as an average nationally.” This kind of information has the same effect of our telling you how much money your top management salaries were reported to be last year. The information tends to create the exact opposite of the desired effect. True, those who make more are all smiley and those who make less have a target to shoot for, but the fact that you counted us down makes us feel, well, counted down.
Help us to train our people to treat customers the way you want to be treated and stop creating ads and push-pull programs that force us to treat our customers roughly. If this is tough to do, I recommend that someone wear a Cubs hat in your next meeting (because the “C” could also stand for Customer) and that he or she act as the consumer advocate during the meeting. See if the same guy who is pushing a program in the ivory towers of Detroit would like to be the customer (or salesperson) who arrives in the showroom the day after an incentive program ends.
Find out how your friends, family and staff buy their cars and trucks and which vehicles were on their lists. It amazes us how much information is out there that never enters the hallowed halls on decision day.
And stop listening to all those folks who want to modify their answers as if they were deciding for a broad cross- section of the dealer body. I never want the appraisal of a wholesaler who isn't interested in buying the vehicle. I want to know what someone will actually pay, however low.
Similarly, in a committee, I want to know how each particular advisor will act for himself, not how he thinks the dealer might behave. Committees that come to consensus based on no one's personal opinion are unreliable. There is no average dealer, only larger and smaller groups of similarly minded individuals.
If you want the “average dealer's point of view” have a balanced committee and ask each member how they will personally respond to an idea, not necessarily how they'd vote on it. If your experience mirrors mine, the committee members behaved personally more like the actual results than the way they voted.
Trust a little. You know that the bad actors are those who have no commitment to the customer, to training, or to service after the sale. You also know the folks who are desperately out of money and straining beyond what is reasonable in order to keep ends together. Work with those folks and take the burden away from the rest of us.
Lastly, be real. When you work with us, sell to us, make demands of us and share with us, don't do it with a voice that is different than the voice with which you interact with each other, with the financial community and with friends and family. We know when you do, and it makes your vision hard to follow.